Although the coronavirus slowed in-person activities this year, it didn’t slow the need for data to help drive public policy decision making.
Amid the many challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute — both policy research organizations based at UNLV — welcomed a large and diverse cohort of student interns and researchers. These UNLV undergraduates, a number of whom are enrolled in the Brookings Public Policy Minor, applied their research skills to produce numerous online fact sheets for the Data Hub. Each month, public officials, community leaders, scholars, and the general public download several hundred fact sheets each month covering a variety of topics important to the region.
“The diverse areas of study that our student team members bring to the table — whether majoring in political science, economics, urban studies, chemistry, computer science, or public affairs — contribute mightily to a robust public policy conversation in the community. The Data Hub represents a synergy of multidisciplinary inquiry on the most timely and critical data for our metropolitan region,” said Caitlin Saladino, director of strategic development at Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute.
In addition to more than 70 fact sheets, the Data Hub offers interactive data visualizations, where viewers can construct and engage with data to include in research and presentations.
In response to the rise of coronavirus hospitalization cases, research assistant Ember Smith, a 2020 UNLV graduate and research assistant at the Brookings Institution worked with Fatma Nasoz, director of data science at The Lincy Institute, to create interactive Tableau visualizations. Their work can be found in the Health collection, which displays the capacity of ICU beds in hospitals and scenarios about their ability to handle different rates of infection.
One-to-One Work with Leading Scholars
Students are engaged in a number of large-scale policy research projects led by UNLV faculty and fellows at the Brookings Institution.
With the guidance of public policy professor Jaewon Lim, students Madison Frazee and Katie Gilbertson worked on a project to model economic recovery scenarios for Nevada in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. Gilbertson described her experience, noting that “assisting in the process from initial data gathering and creating regression analyses, to implementing these strategies in a comprehensive redevelopment agenda that promotes future economic stability, allowed me to realize why policymaking is so crucial for the vitality of the Southern Nevada economy.”
UNLV Honors College student Mary Blankenship is no stranger to research. Blankenship, a dual economics and chemistry major, is an integral part of a unique solar cell research team in the chemistry department, and she still finds time to work alongside Brookings Institution scholars at UNLV and in Washington, D.C. “I have been working with Brookings Senior Fellow Carol Graham on several projects concerning well-being, one of which aims to uncover the social costs of traumatic events like a mass shooting through millions of collected tweets concerning the shootings and Gallup surveys.”
Likewise, economics major Peter Grema regularly meets with John Hudak, Brookings senior fellow in governance studies, to investigate the implications of cannabis legalization. “As a UNLV student, I am thrilled to have Brookings Mountain West as a resource for my education,” Grema said. “It allows me to interact with leading national policy experts, such as Dr. John Hudak. My one-on-one meetings and consultations with Dr. Hudak have helped me see the impact that policy has on the real world, and how I can influence policy to meaningfully impact my community.”
Students are reaching beyond the university to bring their work into public forums. Over the summer term, political science major Olivia Cheche published an opinion editorial on an emergency ordinance put into effect during the Black Lives Matter protests, and Eshaan Vakil brought light to the benefits of volunteer contact tracers during the coronavirus pandemic. Political science major Kristian Thymianos co-authored an informative Brookings blog on defunding police and prisons, and communication studies major Saha Salahi emphasized the importance of valuing civic education in her guest column.
For Saha, writing editorials is a powerful way that “opinions are shared to allow healthy discussions and conversations to arise. Being able to share that opinion amongst the community is such a rewarding resource that allows your voice to be heard and minds to be expanded.”
The unique partnership between UNLV and the Brookings Institution allows UNLV students to network with Brookings scholars and apply for internship and professional opportunities in Washington D.C.
Political science major Marie Falcone anticipated spending her summer in Washington, D.C. after being competitively selected for a summer internship with Brookings Institution scholars at the Brown Center on Education Policy. While COVID-19 meant that Falcone’s internship would be conducted remotely, she embraced the daily online meetings, conversations, and team building sessions with students from across the nation.
Even from a distance, The Brookings Institution recognized Falcone's passion for public policy research and her many contributions to its internship program by naming her the 2020 Pietro S. Nivola Intern at the Brookings Institution for her "commitment to the Brookings values of intellectual curiosity, collegiality, inclusion, and leadership."
“Interning with the Brookings Institution has been a transformative experience,” she said. “One of my favorite memories from this summer was having Brookings President John Allen speak to our intern cohort. He said something that left a profound mark on the way I view policy: ‘Make sure you are always working for the good of your brothers and sisters. That you are a servant for those who need positive policy change.’ It restates the reasons that I love doing policy work. Working for a better tomorrow, every day.”
Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute student interns and researchers often receive accolades for their important research conducted both inside and outside the unit.
Political science student Vanessa Booth was the 2020 Lance and Elena Calvert Award Emerging Scholar winner for her analysis of the Nevada opioid crisis. Her study built upon research she conducted during the spring semester in URST 101: Brookings, Introduction to Policy course taught by Saladino.
Urban Affairs student Elia Del Carmen Solano-Patricio has presented her public policy research at academic conferences. In addition to being a Calvert Award winner, Solano-Patricio received the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, awarded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. That award comes with the welcome responsibility of representing the U.S. abroad, she said. “I have the unique opportunity to study topics that address global problems with global solutions. One of my criminology courses at London Metropolitan University, for instance, will be Terrorism and Counter-terrorism.”
In Nevada, Solano-Patricio has applied her research skills to producing published fact sheets on criminal arrests in Clark County, Nevada and opioids in the Las Vegas Metro.
Yanneli Llamas, also a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, is a recent Honors College graduate who earned a Brookings Public Policy Minor. She is attending the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University this fall.
At Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute, Llamas said, “I enjoyed the opportunity to work on some of the most pressing policy problems today, including police violence, racial segregation, and school reopening in the time of COVID. In this truly collaborative and creative workspace, many of us have developed the skills necessary to succeed in earning scholarships (such as the Gilman), and go on to top ranked graduate schools, law schools and professional positions.”